Total US expenditures on prescription analgesics more than tripled in the 10 years to 2006, increasing from $4.2 billion in 1996 to $13.2 billion, government figures show.

The total number of outpatient prescription purchases made in the USA during the period for these treatments – which include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors and narcotic analgesics - grew from 163.6 million to 230.7 million, according to the latest data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Average expenditure per person on prescription analgesics more than doubled, rising from $26 in 1996 to $57 in 2006, while for people taking at least one such prescription drug the increase was nearly triple, up from $83 to $232, says the AHRQ data, which appears in this month’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

The findings are drawn from usage of prescription analgesics within the US civilian, non-institutionalised population. In 1996, this population numbered 268.9 million people, and the proportion purchasing at least one such painkiller was 19%, or 51.1 million people. By 2006, the surveyed population had risen to 299.3 million but the percentage buying them remained the same, rising to 57 million people, and the percentage of male 16%) and female (21.9%) purchasers also remained the same.

However, the proportion of black non-Hispanic purchasers had gone up from 16.5% to 19.1%, while fewer younger consumers (aged 17 and under) were buying them, their numbers dropping from 6.9% to 5.9%.
Moreover, fewer people described as in “excellent” or “very good” health were buying prescription analgesics by 2006, their proportions declining from 11.8% to 10.4%, and from 17.2% and 15.8%, respectively. In contrast, among people in “good” health, the percentage buying such treatments rose from 22.5% to 24%.